Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

I feel badly – about some “rules” of grammar

Posted by metaphorical on 28 January 2007

The almost-always-right Grammar Girl falls into the prescriptivist trap this week with her correction of “feel badly,” as in, “I feel badly about that.” I already wrote a comment on her blog, but the topic is interesting enough that I thought I’d say a little more about it here. As I look into it, it seems that even the grammarians who allow the expression criticize it. I think even they are wrong.

Grammargirl’s point is summed up when she says,

The quick and dirty tip is that it is correct to say you feel bad when you are expressing an emotion. To say, “I feel badly,” implies that there’s something wrong with your sense of touch. Every time I hear people say, “I feel badly,” I imagine them in a dark room having trouble feeling their way around with numb fingers.

She’s hardly alone, in fact, hers is probably still the prevailing view. More moderating views have been coming to the fore in recent years, but they are still in fundamental agreement. For example, the American Heritage Book of English Usage says, “There is nothing wrong with maintaining this distinction, but don’t expect everyone else to share this view. It’s another useful distinction that is often ignored.”

The grammarian Diana Hacker says,

Of course, people are not actually confused by the incorrect uses. When we say I feel badly, no one in fact thinks we have a poor tactile sense. If the context suggests that health is the issue, everyone knows that we feel ill. If the context suggests that an emotional state is the issue, as in I felt badly upon hearing of her death, everyone knows that we feel sad.

yet she can’t quite give up the ghost. Hacker concludes,

Feel bad is the preferred form, but whether you write feel bad or feel badly, some educated readers will object. A sensible solution is to write around the problem. After all, we can always say that we feel ill (or don’t feel well)—or that we felt depressed, saddened, or despondent upon hearing the bad news.

I’ve never been a fan of the correction of ‘feel badly’ to ‘feel bad’ and after listening to Grammargirl I think I can say why.

The fact is, when people say “I feel badly,” we know they’re referring to their emotional state. The correction isn’t pedantic, it’s literally nonsense.

It makes no sense to say, “Since feel means to touch things, feeling badly means you’re having trouble touching things” because it makes no sense, or it is at least rude, to say to someone, “I know you’re talking about your emotional state, but because you spoke infelicitously, you really said something about the state of your fingers.”

We don’t have a lot of clear, descriptive language for emotional states, so it’s not surprising that we don’t do a good job of talking about them. But surely the person who says “I feel badly that X” means something like “My normal ability to feel good about life is impaired by the fact that X.” If that’s true, then “badly” is indeed an adverb modifying the verb “to feel,” and it’s not an incorrect usage at all. This analysis doesn’t shed new light into the dark corners of our minds where feelings lurk, but it has one overriding benefit: on it, the adverb is modifying the actual sense of the verb that the speaker is using, instead of one that has nothing to do with what they’re talking about.

Hacker is onto something when she says people aren’t confused by “feel badly.” Orwell wrote that “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

When I hear Grammargirl say, “Every time I hear people say, ‘I feel badly,’ I imagine them in a dark room having trouble feeling their way around with numb fingers,” like Hacker, I don’t believe her. I appreciate the way Grammargirl goes for the concrete image, instead of the euphamisms and masses “of Latin words” that, as Orwell puts it, fall “upon the facts like soft snow.” But Grammargirl’s image is false and insincere, because she knows full well what someone says when they say, “I feel badly about that.”

Language, Orwell says, is “an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.” In good grammar, like all good writing, precision is a means, not an end. To behave otherwise is to fall into the prescriptivist trap.

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68 Responses to “I feel badly – about some “rules” of grammar”

  1. And how is recasting it to “I don’t feel well” in any way avoiding the problem?

    • Mark Jeranek said

      If you want to sound like an uneducated slob use ‘badly’. From a grammar standpoint, you may only use an adjective after the verb ‘feel’, as in a Predicate Adjective. You may NOT use an adverb EVER.

      Do you feel sadly? Does that sound awkward? Because that word type in that situation is WRONG.

  2. Yeah, apparently the original Grammargirl podcast took up the question of “well” and “good” and then she dropped that part in the expectation that it will get its own segment.

  3. ClaireDePlume said

    Shakespeare was sage in this quandry you are enduring, as he aleady anticipated possible cerebral turmoil caused by imperfect speech, no matter the tense.

    Rife and alive with possibilities for alternative, yet still precise meanings is this;
    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

    If others are still cloudy on the issue, send them to England, or the nearest nunnery, to be (or not to be) grammatically de-fogged, but definitely not de-frocked.

  4. digglahhh said

    This problem with the use of “badly” is only the beginning.

    What about when badly is used to refer to the extent to which a negative outcome was achieved? For example when one refers to embarrassing oneself badly, that often means that person did a great job of embarrassing him/herself. “Badly” takes on the connotation of the action and then becomes contradictory to the extent to which the action was “successfully” completed.

    If one badly represented oneself, badly takes on the meaning of poorly.

    If one badly embarrassed oneself, badly then assume the meaning of greatly.

    Basically, badly is problematic (at least potentially) just about every time it is used.

  5. Paul said

    I happen to agree with GG in preferring “I feel bad” to “I feel badly”, in the sense of “I am ill.” (It just sounds funny to me, like an over-correction. And after all, we don’t say “I feel sickly” or “I feel illly (illy?).”)

    There is of course a certain ambiguity in “I feel badly”, since it could refer to either my health or my sense of touch.

    But it is interesting to note (at least for me) that this ambiguity usually is not a problem in speech, because native speakers use different intonations for the two senses.

    “I feel BADly” (I am sick) – stress and raised tone on “bad”
    “I FEEL badly” (I do not touch well.) – stress and extension of “feel”

    mrah

  6. ClaireDePlume said

    Let’s be direct and succinct with our language. Let’s say, “I’m pissed off” and skip the maudlin “badly” crapola.

  7. If you’re just saying that everybody uses this word wrongly, so we may as well let them, you may have a point – one, however, that makes it impossible ever to say that any fimble of any plink is geblurpt. That bimby leads to drankin.

    But I see nothing wrong with making a distinction between “badly” and “bad” on simple logical grounds. “BadLY” is an adverb that implies lack of skill or ability in performing the action described by the associated verb. Whether the word “feel” adduces physical sensation or emotion, when you say you “feel badly” you say you are not good at “feeling”. “Bad” is an adjective that describes a (negative) state of being. When you say you “feel bad” you say that you have a feeling that is bad or negative. It hardly seems out of the question to me to expect people to know whether they themselves are best described in the one way or the other, and then to use the words that accurately convey that description.

  8. . said

    I’m not typically bothered by incorrect grammar and/or spelling, but I must say that I cringed when I noticed the misspelling of “euphemism” as “euphamism” here. Sorry to be petty.

    In any case, I agree with Hacker. Unless you’re being deliberately anal-retentive, you take it as it’s said. We know what it means.

  9. Greg Pensinger said

    I think that while Grammar Girl could have spoken in a more academic tone to get her point across, she comes closer to the correct usage than you do.

    We should base our analysis of this matter on Modern English syntax which gives us three options: subject-verb, subject-verb-direct object, and subject-verb-subject complement. We will concentrate on the last of these three.

    The verbs available for use in the S-V-SC construction are limited to linking verbs. Among the list of linking verbs–which includes all forms of the BE when used as the main verb–is the verb TO FEEL. Subject Complements always function nominally or adjectivally; never do they function adverbally!

    LOGICAL ARGUMENT:

    A. TO FEEL is a linking verb.
    B. Linking verbs in the S-V-SC construction require nouns or adjectives as subject complements.
    C. BADLY is an adverb
    Hence: BADLY cannot be used in the S-V-SC construction; thus, BAD (an adjective)is the correct form of the word.

    It is true that in some sentence constructs an obligatory adverb follows a linking verb; however, this form requires two components: (1) it must contain a BE verb(which FEEL isn’t), and (2) the adverb will connote time or place (which BADLY doesn’t). Further, the obligatory adverb is not a subject complement in this construct: it is simply an adverb.

    Greg

  10. Greg Pensinger said

    To add:

    We should not say “I feel badly” any more than we should say “I am badly,” “We are badly,” “She is badly,” “He was badly,” “You were badly,” or “You are being badly.”

  11. Laura said

    Thank you, Greg. This incredibly improper usage of the adverb makes me crazy (notice: NOT crazily). We do not say, “I feel sadly that my dog died.” Rather, we say, “I feel sad that my dog died.” It is the same construction, yet somehow the parallel is missed by most people, leading to one of my biggest grammar pet peeves.

  12. Emily said

    When people say ‘I feel badly’ they are saying ‘I am bad at feeling’ whether they mean to or not. They sound stupid whether they mean to or not and they will continue to make an idiot of him/herself until corrected.

    • Rafael said

      Hmm, speaking of making an idiot of oneself, if the subject is “people,” should we use the third person plural pronoun “they,” or should we use one of the third person singular pronouns “him/herself” to refer back to “people”?

  13. Greg said

    Sorry, Emily, but your pronouns are all over the place. Your last line should read: “…they will continue to make idiots of themselves until corrected.”

  14. Douche said

    Woa! some folks really go off into “intangible nowhere-ville”
    Grammar Girl is correct. I present this question: would you feel “stupidly”? –
    ..Then if the shoe fits..

  15. Thanks for missing the point, Douche.

    I have one question for the “sense of feeling” crowd. Can you name me a single x for the sentence “I feel x-ly,” the sentence being one that you’ve uttered, or heard uttered, in the past year? Or ever?

    I’m pretty sure that in my whole life, if I’ve ever described my sense of touch, I’ve never used a sentence of that form. I think part of my objection to the Grammar Girl way of looking at it is that she’s assigning a meaning to the sentence that it never has, and she’s disambiguating something that is never used ambiguously.

  16. lauredhel said

    I have one question for the “sense of feeling” crowd. Can you name me a single x for the sentence “I feel x-ly,” the sentence being one that you’ve uttered, or heard uttered, in the past year? Or ever?

    Once I heard someone say
    “I feel really…” *conk*

    Does that count?

    [Afterthought: I'm pretty sure I've said 'I feel a bit poorly' before, but I know it's fairly close to anachronism.]

  17. ClaireDePlume said

    “I feel poorly” which means:

    source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/poorly

    Adjective -

    … in poor health; somewhat ill: I hear she’s been poorly.
    [Origin: 1250–1300; ME pourely. See poor, -ly]

  18. Angry Midget said

    So, the point is that it’s not only o.k., but preferable to use bad grammar as long as people know what we’re talking about.

    It’s this simple: what’s needed in the sentence is an adjective, not an adverb.

    Of course I know what someone means when he says “I feel badly,” but at the same time I think he’s trying to sound genteel, while actually he’s ignorant. It’s just as easy to say “I feel bad,” and it’s correct. There’s nothing wrong, or “anal-retentive,” about that.

  19. Scaramouche said

    It’s not a matter of preference or opinion; “I feel badly” is incorrect, and “I feel bad” is correct.

    It reminds me of the “debate” over whether December 31, 1999 or December 31, 2000 marked the end of the century and millennium. Popular wisdom favored 1999.

    But there are 100 years in a century, and 1,000 years in a millennium. Not 99 or 999. There was no year 0. Simple arithmetic indicates that December 31, 2000 is correct. 2001 was the first year of the new century and millennium. It’s not a matter of opinion.

    Similarly, the rules of grammar dictate that “I feel badly” is wrong. It doesn’t matter that some people like to say it, or that those to whom they are speaking understand what they mean.

  20. ClaireDePlume said

    If language is inaccurate, part of the problem is our inability to listen. Language has been passed down word of mouth through the ages, and if the ears are plugged, there very likely will be a disconnect with the central processor in our cerebral cavities.

    As for an emotional disconnect between our feelings and our words, that’s not really an issue of grammar although it could be a symptom. People who don’t listen typically don’t hear their own feelings either. Emotional dysfunction though is not merely “expressed” in our language slipisms. It is a misprint in meme processing and ensuing misinterpretation of reality and of everything.

  21. Anon said

    To feel doesn’t just mean touch – so even if you’re going with the meaning tied to emotion, it does not make sense to say “I feel badly.” The statement can mean either “I am bad at feeling emotions” or “I am bad at sensing things I touch.”
    Also, I agree with Angry Midget. Even if I know what people mean when they say “I feel badly,” I still cringe because it seems they are trying – and failing – to be “more correct” than the general public.
    I feel good (not goodly) about my position concerning the matter.

  22. Mana Gement said

    I’m delighted to see that this thread straggles on, so I can ask for your opinion on the variant that troubles me:

    “I want it [bad/ly].”

    I think that by the parallel construction “I want it desperately,” I should use “badly.” But then by the definitions above, I am saying, “I lack skill at wanting it.”

    As to why I am not using “desperately” and avoiding the problem altogether, it’s because I’m writing dialog. The speaker in question is not in an emotional state to use polysyllabic words, or even to worry much about grammar. The point is therefore a bit moot, but I was still curious about the technically correct choice.

  23. Cash Guy said

    all of this petty stuff will have no place in the near future.

  24. ClaireDePlume said

    Per Orwell, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

    What is insincere on this thread: So-called “petty” dialog or hyperbolic innuendo lacking substance?

  25. Greg said

    “Badly,” in this sentence, is being used adverbally; it is modifying the verb “want.”

    One test for adverbs is that they can be moved around in the sentence; thus, “I badly want it” is still correct. Conversly, you could not say, “I bad want it”; at least I hope you wouldn’t.

    Why it is not an adjective?

    Simply, because it’s not modifying a noun. There are two nouns–I and it–(actually one noun and one pronoun) in your sentence and neither of them are “bad,” being “bad,” or feeling “bad”; or, if they are, it is not obvious from this sentence.

    The problem is not with this one instance (bad vs. badly), but with a larger problem: people just do not understand how the words they use are functioning in their sentences. This is an even larger issue in the community of “writers” (mostly fiction writers) who often break rules of grammar without knowing that they are breaking them. The golden rule for writers should be this: If you are going to break the rules, know the rules first! I think there should be a strict writers’ union that requires ALL writers to pass a stringent grammar test before they are allowed to publish anything; for how can one call oneself a writer when one does not know how to write?

    • Rafael said

      (actually two pronouns, one the first-person singular personal pronoun, and the other one of the three third-person singular personal pronouns English has)

  26. Mana Gement said

    It’s nice to be sure of that, Greg. I still wonder, when the meaning of “I want it badly” is clearly distinguishable from “I am inept at wanting it,” why it is considered unclear for “I feel badly.”

    Wrong part of speech? Sure, I’ll give you that. Unclear about the quality of badness being discussed? Not at all.

    On a separate note, while I appreciate frustration at abuses of English, I am also struggling to accept that if I am writing, I can hold my head up high and be called a writer.

    Not a Writer, suspected of looking down my over-qualified nose at the rest of the unfortunate non-writers. Not a “writer,” pretending to the honor of the title. Not a “doesn’t deserve to be allowed out of the house unless I pass a test of prescriptive rules of English.” A writer. Someone who writes. Just like someone who dances at the country fair is, while dancing, a dancer.

    I spent years not writing because I was afraid that I was somehow unauthorized. I don’t feel there’s any need to add to that by snarking at people who struggle with grammar. We all have things we need to improve.

  27. Mana Gement said

    And still, I hesitate about the part of speech. Something can cost you dearly, and you can feel a loss sorely. Sorely is a quality of the feeling; you are not sore. So you can, presumably, feel a loss badly in the same fashion.

    And at that point you can feel anything badly without having acquired any nerve damage.

  28. Mana Gement said

    And I have a tendency to begin conversational sentences with “and” in casual writing. It is a failing. Hopefully I will not be banned from the noble order of Writers for it.

  29. Michael Phoenix said

    Citizen Gement, I vastly appreciate your point that one is a writer because one writes, not because one “qualifies” by some arbitrary standard. Thank you for making it so clearly and well.

    I do, however, disagree that “I want it bad/ly” is grammatically equivalent to “I feel bad/ly”, for the simple reason that “I want it bad/ly” is an idiom (for, as you note, “I want it desperately”). And idioms, by their very nature, are not as strictly bound by the prescriptive rules of grammar (or, perhaps, “rules of prescriptive grammar”) as are normal sentences.

    Simply by saying “I want it bad,” or “I want it badly,” you have declared that you are not following the formal rules of English–because neither sentence means what you intend (or what your reader will perceive) if formally analyzed. In fact, “badly” in the sentence “I want it badly” is no more an adverb than is “bad”. Neither one modifies the verb. The “ly” ending on “badly” gives the surface impression that it is an adverb, as one would expect from its position in the sentence. But ending in “ly” doesn’t make it an adverb any more than ending in “s” makes a word a plural.

    Hmmm. Anyone want to take a stab at diagramming the sentence, “I want it so bad!”?

  30. Jerry said

    Being among the first of the so-called Baby Boomers, I learned that a state of being verb (such as “to be” and emotions) are modified by an adjective: “I am feeling bad.” However, “action” verbs are modified by an adverb. Thus, “I feel (action of touching) badly.” would indicate a physical action.

    The problem is exacerbated by the word “well” which is both an adjective and an adverb. Saying, “I feel well.” causes problems since “well” could be either an adjective or an adverb. Such awkward problems with the English language are numerous. My favorite is, “I got gas today.”

  31. Greg said

    First off, I do not consider myself a writer, nor will I ever.

    But to say that to be a writer requires only that one write is rediculous. The simple act of writing does not make a writer. Neither does the act of dancing make one a dancer.

    If my toilet at home clogs up and I use a plunger to unclog it, does it make me a plumber?
    No. Pushing sh– down a pipe does not make one a plumber, just as writing sh– on a piece of paper does not make one a writer no matter how hard one pushes.

  32. Greg said

    I’m suprised that no one has picked up on the irony of my, somewhat jokingly, calling for an oppressive, overbearing, “big-brother” type governing body for writers on a board dedicated to Orwell.

    I just noticed it myself.

    I will interpret your recent silence as a result of my offending you, so for that I’m sorry.

  33. ClaireDePlume said

    Greg, I speak only for myself.

    Accept my silence as thoughtfulness… I’ve felt flummoxed many times over while listening to every Tom, Dick, & Harry crow – with glowing, over-flowing “verbicide” – of their talents for poetry, commentary, prose, (auto)biography, verbal dysentery, ad nauseum. Writing as they do to delight their imaginary audiences, they pooh-pooh all thought of *speling and gramma*.

    “Yes,” I ponder. “If anyone can write, then it is logical that anyone can play the piano; yet does this make one a virtuoso?”

    Is it so then, to presume one can write, with nothing more than pen & paper? Theoretically this may be. If writing for an audience of baboons, the baboons will appreciate the texture of the paper and the pretty scribbles as they use it to wipe their red rumps.

    If all that is required of a writer is to create interest or purpose for an audience, whether the audience is a tribe of baboons or a gaggle of people, then it only goes to prove that $hit sells.

    When all is said & done as the $hit pushes through the pipes, we can be at peace knowing that the plumbers are happy.

  34. J.D. said

    Metaphorical,

    I feel similarly about this subject … :)

    J.D.

  35. ClaireDePlume said

    I trust what follows needs no introduction:

    n a message dated 5/17/08 2:05:08 PM, “ClaireDeplume” writes:

    << Hello Rob,

    I subscribe to your daily words and at the conclusion of your Saturday posts,
    you invite inquiries. I have one.

    “I feel badly” vs. “I feel bad”.

    This question of language precision arises on a blog I sometimes visit, and
    the blog’s writer cites Orwell’s remark, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

    I am most interested to read your thoughts on the “bad vs. badly issue”, as this particular blog post remains in “limbo consensus” for too many months now.

    I feel flummoxed and appeal to your expertise for closure!

    Thank you,
    ClaireDePlume

    Hi ClaireDePlume -

    Thanks for you question. Here’s something I wrote about this a while back.

    Hope it helps.

    Q. Should I say “I feel bad” or “I feel badly” about something?

    A. In most cases, you should feel bad about using “feel badly.” That’s
    because “feel” is a state of being verb, like “seem,” “appear” and “taste.”

    State of being verbs are followed, not by adverbs, but by adjectives.

    So, just as we would say, “He seems bad,” “she appears bad” and “it tastes
    bad,” we should say, “I feel bad.”
    OK, sometimes “feel” can be an action verb, meaning “to handle, touch.” In
    such cases, “feel” can be modified by an adverb (“I feel badly”), meaning
    “I’m having trouble with my sense of touch.”

  36. ClaireDePlume said

    (Source for Post #35: Rob Kyff aka WordGuy)

  37. Blue Athena said

    This whole conversation only meakes sense if you believe in some sort of Chomskiesque deep language theory. You state “But surely the person who says ‘I feel badly that X’ means something like ‘My normal ability to feel good about life is impaired by the fact that X.’ If that’s true, then ‘badly’ is indeed an adverb modifying the verb ‘to feel,’ and it’s not an incorrect usage at all.”

    But really, if you’re a pragmatist who accepts the evolution of language for survival it really doesn’t exactly “mean” anything at all. You just use the word that works, sometimes it’s consistent, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you can redefine it enough to pretend it “means” something. But I just wouldn’t expect that much of language. It’s a blunt instrument. It’s sloppy. Reality is sloppy. When people say this they don’t have a deep definition in mind, but are saying what works.

    And if grammar girl is imagining all those things when people talk, she’s imagining too much. The grammar and meaning of everyday language business is like a sickness that’ll pull people in. Like disecting the verses of the bible. You can set up a whole science around something and still have it be, at root, “meaningless”.

  38. Maria said

    I feel bad so much thought is given to how a feeling is expressed than the original thought .
    Get “a grip.” Let’s focus on more important things like national security. Who is crossing our boarders? What do they have in that suitcase? If we do not pay attentioon to what , in fact is important, a lot of you will be feeling badly.

  39. Greg said

    Unfortunately I was unable to render the meaning of the last sentence of your previous post. The commas surrounding “in fact is important” make it non-restrictive (which means that it is inessential to the sentence and thus it may, if the writer chooses, be left out). Thus I read your last sentence as: “If we do not pay attention to what a lot of you will be feeling badly.” You should have had your second comma after “in fact” because it is the interrupter in your sentence. (You do still need that other comma, though, as you need to separate your dependent and independent clauses within that complex sentence.)

    Grammar is exremely important. What if someone who was typing up an important document and, like you, happenned to misplace a comma and cause an essential element of his or her sentence to be inessential? That might have some profoundly negative effects.

    This very issue, by the way, cost a Canadian communications company millions of dollars a few years back because it negated an important condition in a contract. Do a google search of “the importance of punctuation” if you are interested in reading the story.

  40. But you have to love the warning not to make the roominghouse people angry.

  41. Maria said

    Greg,,,,

    Commas have a place in important documents, I’ll grant you that! Unfortunately you did not get the point of what is important such as our national security!,!,!

    • Daylin said

      Oh, he got it. I think you may have missed his point, though. I thought it was kind of Greg to not point your first sentence disaster.

  42. Greg said

    I did get your point, and I don’t completely disagree with you. I was trying to illustrate that correct grammar usage is important for communicating effectively and accurately and that paying attention to grammar and usage is important in every type of communication–including in documents that have to do with creating and preserving our national security.

    Damnit, Metaphorical, I can’t believe I missed that. Good one.

  43. Maria said

    Metaphorical,
    Yes, good one! Those “roominghouse people” could get angry and create something out of nothing.

  44. Greg said

    There is definitely something to be said about good hospitality. Crossing boarders has the potential of causing a significant decline in the quality of service given at hotels, inns, and motels nationwide. Once crossed, boarders will be hesitant to go out of their way to give good service. This leads to an overall decline in the quality of life for everyone involved. This is a matter of national security. Tip your maids and bell hops!!

  45. Maria said

    Those homonyms can get tricky. I like your sense of humor.
    I’ll remeber to tip next time.

  46. Maria said

    Remember!

  47. ghhjhkg said

    Kevin T. Keith Says:
    22 August 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I AGREE PERFECTLY WORDED ALL OTHERS ARE IGNORANT IF THEY AGREE BADLY IS AN OPTION.

    But I see nothing wrong with making a distinction between “badly” and “bad” on simple logical grounds. “BadLY” is an adverb that implies lack of skill or ability in performing the action described by the associated verb. Whether the word “feel” adduces physical sensation or emotion, when you say you “feel badly” you say you are not good at “feeling”. “Bad” is an adjective that describes a (negative) state of being. When you say you “feel bad” you say that you have a feeling that is bad or negative. It hardly seems out of the question to me to expect people to know whether they themselves are best described in the one way or the other, and then to use the words that accurately convey that description.

  48. Except that it ignores the simple point that no one ever, in practice, means that they have poor use of their fingers, moreover, this is a thought that none of us has ever needed to express for our entire lives, and if we did, we would use other words and phrases to do so.

    So there really is no possible source of confusion, and, in fact, no one is ever confused by the “wrong” locution.

  49. Blue Athena said

    Chris asks:

    ‘And how is recasting it to “I don’t feel well” in any way avoiding the problem?’

    Is there a ‘problem’ I missed? I’ve hardly found my life suffering over mass confusion here. The English simplistic yes/no (no doch) and rigid he/she pronouns (both ‘correct’) are far more painful and I beg of people to use them incorrectly.

    I agree…exactly who is confused?

    I have long had a sneaking suspicion that grammar police are actually linguistically ignorant while native-language savvy. I’d love to see a survey of equally educated (same num years in school) people measuring grammar uptightness against actually linguistic and foreign language (dead language not counted) knowledge.

  50. digglahhh said

    Except that it ignores the simple point that no one ever, in practice, means that they have poor use of their fingers, moreover, this is a thought that none of us has ever needed to express for our entire lives, and if we did, we would use other words and phrases to do so.

    C’mon, Meta, we’ve all had drunken sex, right?…

    - “Hey what the fuck are you doing to my nipple, D-, R-, umm… sailor?”

    - “Sorry, sweetie, after nine shots of Makers Mark, I feel badly.”

    If I ever write a screenplay, I’m totally writing in numerous scenes with questionable uses of “badly.”

  51. jz said

    This enrages me. Grammar is not correct or incorrect based on whether the sentence makes sense. There are rules. The group of verbs associated with the senses can take on adjectives. This applies to describing how they seem to another, or describing feelings. “I feel badly” is used improperly by people who want to sound educated but are not.

  52. Mark said

    I argue that this is a very narrow definition of the word “feel”. The word also describes an emotional state. To say, “I feel badly about having insulted someone,” does, in fact, modify the verb. In such a case, one would be describing an emotional distress, or the inability to feel right about something. I agree that if one is describing a physical state, “I feel bad,” would properly describe the situation. However, if one wishes to express emotional regret, then the adverb badly does, in fact, describe an emotional state of being.

    Grammar Girl, you in fact describe a similar case (an example of which is included by Webster–whom I think we can agree is an authority on English usage)–and that is, “feel strongly.” This is a classic example of an adverb modifying a state of being. And in this case, the state of being is an emotion, certainly not to be confused with the need to physically crush everything one touches. Additionally, no one would argue that the correct usage would be, “I feel strong.”

  53. Joe said

    The difference between “I feel badly” and “I feel strongly” can be seen in the usage of the two sentences.

    While one may incorrectly state that one feels badly, and leave it at that, it’s hard to imagine anyone saying he or she feels strongly without saying about what he or she feels strongly. This is the fundamental difference between the two and the reason that the “strongly” example mentioned above is permissible while the “badly” example is not.

    How do you feel?
    - I feel badly
    - I feel strongly

    Neither of these makes any sense.

    The person answering with the second option above would have to include additional information; namely, the thing about which he or she feels strongly:

    “I feel strongly that the United States should never have invaded Iraq.”

    Whereas, if someone were to say that he or she feels compassion for the Iraqi people who have suffered as a result of America’s unjust actions, he or she need not include the -ly at the end of bad:

    “I feel bad for the Iraqi people” is both sufficient and correct.

    “I feel badly for the Iraqi people” is inflated, pompous, and ironically incorrect.

  54. Don Butts said

    To say “I feel badly” is grammatically similar to saying “I feel angily.” Regardless of whether everyone knows what you mean or not, it’s incorrect. “Badly” is an adverb and modifies verbs. “I” is not a verb. If you want to sound pretentious (and uneducated), keep adding that unnecessary “ly.”

  55. Mary Birdsong said

    I share Grammar Girl’s preference for “I feel bad.” as opposed to “I feel badly.” When I hear someone say “I feel badly” I do NOT picture a person unsuccessfully trying to touch things in a dark room, however I DO picture someone unsuccessfully trying to have an emotion. And that always makes me laugh. I also think that the usage of “badly” tends to be a favorite of people who tend to use inappropriate or incorrect grammar in a concerted effort to use what they THINK sounds correct, but in truth have no idea WHY it would be. Because, in fact, it isn’t.

  56. I have posted on the topic today at http://realgrammar.posterous.com/all-well-and-good

  57. David said

    While I agree with Grammar Girl regarding the use of “I feel bad” to indicate that one feels ill, I wonder about “I feel poor” which suggests a lack of money, versus “I feel poorly” which suggests a lack of health. The latter expression violates the S-V-SC construction with the verb “to feel,” and, thus, argues in favor of “I feel badly.”

  58. jim said

    Me no care no more.

    I think that half of the people on this thread will have no problem with that statement. Surely, no one would argue that my meaning is unclear, and at least half of the people posting on this topic seem to think that this is the end of the argument: you know what I meant, so my grammar must must be fine. Presumably, these people think that they know more than me, and will continue to argue with my friends and I. And, presumably, they don’t see anything grammatically wrong with that last sentence, either…

  59. khusaini said

    hay,, me too,,,
    i think grammar is difficult to understand,,

  60. Czas zysku na zdrówko dysponuje czar zaś po spośród

  61. Clearly this is an old posting and admittedly I’ve not read all of the debate or what seems to have graduated into lots of people disagreeing with one woman and over-analyzing her hypothetical use of literal meanings to convey her point. i.e. Having inept tactile senses. Even still, I DO admit that someone dubbing herself as “always right” is waaaaay more than just annoying. We ALL know a great deal and likely so, about a great many, different topics…that said; any self-professed know-it-all will not command one OUNCE of my attn in ANY situation. They’re IMPOSSIBLE people who make communication annoying and utterly futile. Whatever “you” say, she will quickly tell you how wrong you are and when asked for clarification, you’ll get whatever point, thought or opinion you JUST made, fed right back to you, only rephrased and delived with her special haughty arrogance. Thusly the term *face palm* was created. I’m only sharing why I RUN from ANY communications with people such as these. That having been said, I hate to admit she: “I feel badly about missing your birthday.” Quite simply….in this sentence “feel” is a linking verb and linking verbs are modified by adjectives, NOT adverbs. Not trying to start trouble. Just joining in.;-) Please know, also that I’m aware that my grammatical bones are ripe for the picking due to mistakes I KNOW I made about. First of all, I’m not perfect and very falliable. Secondly, this tablet is in it’s death rattle stage and I, quite literally, can not see one word I’ve typed, even AS I type. Have a great day ALL……yvette

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